During a holiday party someone asked me a simple question. She asked, “How are you TODAY?” And then she did something even more rare, she listened to my answer, rather than guess my answer.
I’ve been trying to pay attention to what things really comfort me and what things cause me more pain, because without trying to consciously take notice, I really think I could pass through this whole time, not being able to off any more comfort to others than I could before.
There were two things in that exchange that made it particularly comforting.
- She acknowledge my loss.
- She listened to my answer.
I’ve noticed that those two things are very hard for people to do.
We don’t forget him. People seem so afraid to bring him up. It’s as if they fear they will upset us. Well guess what guys, we’ve experienced great loss, the death of a loved one, your acknowledgement is not the part of all this that upsets us. We never forget what has happened. No person, in the first year of their loss, ever said, ‘gosh, I was having such a great time until you reminded me they died.’ We may be having a good day. We may be having a bad day. But we aren’t forgetting, and your acknowledging our loss, doesn’t remind us or upset us, it just allows us to be where we are. If it seems to upset us, it isn’t your acknowledgment that upsets us, your acknowledging it just allows us to show a bit of how upset we are.
You don’t have to acknowledge with that exact question, but it was good for two reasons. It wasn’t about the woman’s feelings and it didn’t make assumptions, which brings me to my second point.
LISTENING TO ANSWERS
She listened to my answer and never tried to give me an answer. This really seems to be incredibly hard for people. I’ve begun to notice, in other situations, it is even hard for me. But few things are as intolerable as having someone guess at how you are feeling or thinking. People finish my sentences, they ask leading questions, and just in general try to help me talk. It’s maddening. Don’t say that I must be feeling awful or this must be so hard. This must be a comfort. You must be afraid. You must want to be alone.
Guess what? We may have lost husbands, parents and children, but we haven’t lost our ability to answer for ourselves.
One thing I’ve learned more and more during this time is that people are all incredibly different. They have different ways of grieving and different things bring them strength and comfort. I hear and read this all the time and I think one reason people keep feeling like they have to repeat it is that everyone keeps assuming they must be feeling a certain way.
Be patient and listen for an answer. And if the answer is fine, or good, or bad. Leave it at that. Thankfully, especially in America, the “how are you” phrase can be answered with a polite “okay” and it means nothing. Don’t follow that “okay” with any guesses on how they are doing. They have a right to chose not to answer. They probably still appreciate the acknowledgement.
I’m grateful to have encountered many people who are really good at the comfort thing and really good at listening. It’s rare, but I know I’ve met more than most.
Note: This is not directed at anyone at all. I am not writing this remembering anything anyone has said that was particularly hard to handle. One bright spot of this hard time is that I don’t have brain cells to devote to things done wrong. I am trying to note, things done right. That is one reason I blog. I want to remember the important things. The meaningful moments. The thoughtful words. And I know many of you know others who have experienced loss, so this is an encouragement for you to just let them talk, or not talk, but not to talk for them.
For those of you who have experienced loss, I am so sorry for your loss. Are there things people have done or said that has been particularly comforting to you that you are willing to share?